SPHINX CALIGINEUS SINICUS (Rothschild & Jordan, 1903) -- Chinese Pine hawkmoth

Female Sphinx caligineus sinicus. Photo: © NHMUK Male Sphinx caligineus sinicus. Photo: © NHMUK


Hyloicus caligineus sinicus Rothschild & Jordan, 1903, Novit. zool. 9 (suppl.): 149. Type locality: China, [Zhejiang,] Zocé [Sheshan, 31°10'N 121°19'E].

Synonym. Hyloicus caligineus sinicus Rothschild & Jordan, 1903.

Note. Mell (1922a) described brown specimens of what he took to be Sphinx caligineus from northern Yunnan as Sphinx caligineus brunnescens, a subspecies that he claimed was confined to montane forests. Later, however, he also referred specimens from northern Guangdong and southern Hunan to this subspecies (Mell, 1922b) and stated that Sphinx caligineus brunnescens was intermediate ('ein Mittelglied') between the dark brown Sphinx caligineus caligineus (Butler, 1877) from Japan and the paler grey Sphinx caligineus sinicus from 'Zocé' (= Sheshan), Zhejiang. On 30.vi.1995, the first author captured a specimen of Sphinx caligineus at Hangzhou (Zhejiang) that was transitional in colour between Sphinx caligineus sinicus and Sphinx caligineus brunnescens. In addition, there is a brown female in the IZAS from nearby Sheshan (Zhejiang) (the type locality of Sphinx caligineus sinicus) that matches the description of Sphinx caligineus brunnescens, while grey specimens of what appear to be Sphinx caligineus have been captured at 2250m in northern Yunnan (Pittaway & Kitching, 2000). We therefore initially considered it likely that Sphinx caligineus brunnescens was simply a colour form of Sphinx caligineus sinicus, analogous to the brown forms that exist in the European species, Sphinx pinastri Linnaeus (Pittaway & Kitching, 2000).

However, with the description of Sphinx yunnana Brechlin, 2015 (from Yunnan), and Sphinx centrovietnama Brechlin, 2015 (from Vietnam), the situation with regard to the nomenclature and distribution of Sphinx yunnana, Sphinx centrovietnama, Sphinx caligineus sinicus and Sphinx caligineus brunnescens has become even more confusing. The grey specimens of Sphinx caligineus mentioned above, which were captured at 2250m in northern Yunnan, have been confirmed as being Sphinx yunnana. In fact, all individuals of Sphinx caligineus sinicus from Yunnan and Sichuan mentioned in Pittaway & Kitching (2000) are Sphinx yunnana. As no individuals of Sphinx caligineus have ever been confirmed from Yunnan and Sichuan, the brown individuals that Mell (1922a) described from northern Yunnan could well be the brown form of Sphinx yunnana. Using DNA barcodes, the Sphinx caligineus brunnescens-like individuals recorded from NE Laos have been confirmed as being Sphinx centrovietnama (Ian Kitching, pers. comm. 2018), a species which appears to extend northwards into southern China.

No type material of Sphinx caligineus brunnescens could be found in CMNH or MNHU; specimens labelled 'type' in CMNH or 'paratype' in MNHU do not have appropriate data. Danner, Eitschberger & Surholt, 1998, Herbipoliana 4(1): 58, erronously gave the type-locality as 'Bergwälder im Norden der provinz Kuangtung'. The above confusion cannot be fully resolved until the types of Sphinx caligineus brunnescens have been examined. Depending on what it turns out to be, this name will probably replace either Sphinx yunnana or Sphinx centrovietnama.

There is also a further complication in that there are enough differences in coloration and patterning between the larvae of Sphinx caligineus sinicus, Sphinx caligineus caligineus and Sphinx caligineus brunnescens to indicate that they may be distinct species and not just subspecies.


Wingspan: 55--76mm. Differs from Sphinx caligineus caligineus in having: body and wings paler, more grey-brown (Sphinx caligineus brunnescens is intermediate); hindwing with veins Rs and M1 shorter stalked; antenna with scaling white, with a few brown scales on the middle segments; mesothoracic tegulae with brown borders faint, vestigial in the female; forewing upperside with discal streaks faint or absent.

Male genitalia similar to Sphinx caligineus caligineus, but gnathos less obviously sinuate, the lobes much shorter; valve shorter, more rounded apically; harpe with processes shorter, the dorsal one not curved dorsad apically, the ventral one much narrower; aedeagus with apical lobe much shorter even than in Sphinx pinastri, more similar to that of Sphinx oberthueri. In the female genitalia, ostial plate with lobe more deeply sinuate than in Sphinx caligineus caligineus.

Female Sphinx caligineus sinicus, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China, 30.vi.1995. Photo: © Tony Pittaway. Female Sphinx caligineus sinicus, Beijing, China. Photo: © Tony Pittaway.


Common in hilly areas with a good density of pines (Pinus species).

Xiangshan (Fragrant Hills), Beijing, China. Photo: © Tony Pittaway


China: iv (Ningbo; Baihua Shan, Beijing); v (Tianjin; Hebei; Beijing); 7.v (Xingshan); 9-13.v (Beijing); 21-27.vi (Beijing); 30.vi (Hangzhou); vii (Shandong; Nanjing). North Korea: 15-29.v (North Pyongan Province); 1-12.vii (North Pyongan Province). South Korea: vii ([unspecified locality]).

Two generations a year, with adults flying in (April)/May/June and July-September (Yang, 1978).

Park et al. (1999) gives July for Korea.


OVUM: Oval (2.13 x 3.09mm). Very large for the size of moth.

LARVA: Full-fed 47--50mm. Generally found about 2.0-2.5m off the ground among the needles of terminal shoots, where full-grown larvae are extremely well camouflaged if resting along a twig.

Full-fed larvae are always grey-brown, which is in distinct contrast to the larva of Sphinx caligineus caligineus (Butler, 1877), which is always green and brown with white longitudinal stripes, indicating that the two taxa may be distinct species and not subspecies.

Larvae of this species produce an extraordinary amount of frass for the amount of vegetable matter they eat. Often, two or more of the frass pellets may be stuck together.

Fourth instar larva of Sphinx caligineus sinicus, Xiangshan, Beijing, China. Photo: © Tony Pittaway Full-grown larva of Sphinx caligineus sinicus, Xiangshan, Beijing, China. Photo: © Tony Pittaway Full-grown larva of Sphinx caligineus sinicus in alarm position, Xiangshan, Beijing, China, 2.ix.2005. Photo: © Tony Pittaway

PUPA: 28--40mm. Dark mahogany brown and glossy, with even darker wing cases and thorax. Head projecting frontad, eyes slightly bulbous, with no free tongue-case as found in related members of the genus. Tongue-case flush with the legs and reaching to the wing tips. Whole pupa finely punctate. Spiracular ridges present on movable abdominal segments. Cremaster triangular to almost conical, narrow, with a double sharp point; tuberculate. Similar to that of Callambulyx tatarinovii. Formed in an almost silk-free cell in the soil. The overwintering stage.

Pupa of Sphinx caligineus sinicus, Xiangshan, Beijing, China. Photo: © Tony Pittaway

Larval hostplants. Mainly on Pinus tabulaeformis to the west and north of Beijing (Zhu & Wang, 1997; Pittaway, pers. obs. 2003), as well as the ornamental Pinus armandii (Pittaway, pers. obs. 2003). In Guangdong, Mell (1922b) recorded Sphinx caligineus brunnescens on the native pine, Pinus massoniana. Other native hostplants of Sphinx caligineus in China are unknown but Wang (1992) listed the introduced pines Pinus elliottii and Pinus taeda for Hunan. The record on Betula (Wang, 1992) is certainly erroneous.




China: Hebei (Chengde); Beijing (Xiangshan; Botanical Garden; Baihua Shan; Puwa, 1100m; Haidian); Tianjin; Shandong; Shaanxi (Yangling); Jiangsu (Nanjing); Anhui (Mt. Huang Shan); Shanghai; Zhejiang (Hangzhou; Ningbo; Sheshan); Hubei (Xingshan, 1300m); Hunan (Luoxiao Shan); Guangdong.

Records in the Chinese literature from southeastern Xizang/Tibet (Mutu, Namjagbarwa region, 850m) (e.g. Zhang et al., 1986, pl. 1, fig. 3) are usually misidentifications of Sphinx oberthueri; however, there is the possibility that they could be of the newly described Sphinx bhutana Brechlin, 2015, or Sphinx yunnana Brechlin, 2015.

North Korea: North Pyongan Province (Chonma County, Chonma-san).

South Korea: Kangwon Province (Seolak-san); South Cholla Province (Baekyang Temple).


Northeastern, eastern and southeastern China, North Korea and South Korea.

Older records from northern Thailand (Inoue et al, [1996]) and Vietnam refer to what is now Sphinx centrovietnama Brechlin, 2015. This species appears to extend north into southeastern China, where it has been confused with Sphinx caligineus brunnescens.

Global distribution of Sphinx caligineus sinicus. Map: © NHMUK.


Holarctic; eastern Palaearctic region. Pleistocene refuge: Monocentric -- Sinopacific refugium.

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© A.R. Pittaway & I.J. Kitching (The Natural History Museum, London)